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UCL scientists to replace Russian-made components on Mars rover

06 December 2023

Aided by a £10.7m investment from the UK Space Agency, UK researchers will play a pivotal role in ensuring that the delayed Rosalind Franklin rover will now be able to launch in 2028.

The project, funded with an additional £10.7 million from the UK Space Agency and led by Aberystwyth University, will involve the same team based at UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory who led on designing and building the rover’s panoramic camera system.

Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, commented: “The UK-built Rosalind Franklin rover is a truly world-leading piece of technology at the frontier of space exploration. It is fantastic that experts from the UK can also provide a key instrument for this mission, using UK Space Agency funding.

“As well as boosting world-class UK space technology to further our understanding of Mars and its potential to host life, this extra funding will strengthen collaboration across the fast-growing UK space sector and economy.”

The rover, which was built by Airbus in Stevenage as part of a European Space Agency programme, was due to launch in 2022 but the collaboration with Russia’s space agency (Roscosmos) was cancelled following the illegal invasion of Ukraine.

The new instrument, named Enfys (meaning ‘rainbow’ in Welsh), will replace the Russian-built Infrared Spectrometer for ExoMars (ISEM), meaning the mission can recover its full scientific potential. Work will be led by Aberystwyth University with support from STFC RAL Space and Qioptiq Ltd as well as UCL.

Enfys will identify targets on the surface of Mars for sampling and analysis, building on the scientific discoveries of the Mars rover mission.

Enfys and the mission’s UCL-led camera system PanCam will work together to identify minerals that could harbour evidence of life to enable the rover to drill for samples to be analysed by other instruments on the rover.

The £10.7 million brings the total UK Space Agency investment in the Rosalind Franklin rover to £377 million.

Professor Andrew Coates (Mullard Space Science Laboratory at UCL), Principal Investigator of PanCam on the Rosalind Franklin rover, said: “It is exciting to enhance the scientific power of PanCam’s wide-angle and high-resolution visible cameras with improved mineral identification in the infrared thanks to Enfys. 

 “Our team are delighted to apply the experience from PanCam to Enfys, for the challenging environment of the Mars surface. We look forward to joint science and operations with Enfys.” 

Orson Sutherland, Mars Exploration Group Leader at the European Space Agency, concluded: “With Enfys on board, the Rosalind Franklin Rover is recovering its full capability to perform the assigned ExoMars scientific mission. The instrument will provide key science data working in full synergy with the rest of the payloads.”

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